In the course of helping many clients find their style and create functional wardrobes I’ve found that a moderate amount of analysis and planning is useful. Too much can lead to analysis paralysis, which takes the fun out of dressing and evolving your style. Too little and you’ll shop based purely on emotion and end up with a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. I’m all for emotional shopping but it has to be organized.
I’ve also found that it is useful to think about the factors that affect your style in two groups. The internal factors are about you. The external factors are about your context. Here’s the way I like to break it down.
Your aesthetic taste in terms of silhouette, colour, fabric, pattern, texture and design detailing is subjective, and can be wildly different from one person to another. Your style preferences attract you to items before you’ve even tried them on.
Although body type dressing guidelines have relaxed over time, we can’t help but be somewhat attracted to clothing, footwear and accessories that create conventionally flattering proportions. That said, creating outfit proportions that are “just flattering enough” is the more modern approach and quite liberating. It’s empowering to know that these days we can be stylish creating all sorts of proportions and irregular outfit juxtapositions by manipulating the guidelines for body type dressing.
Over the years, I’ve found that a person’s need for outfit variety — or lack thereof — has a noticeable impact on their style. Those who enjoy outfit variety have a greater assortment of silhouettes, fabrications, textures, patterns and colours in their wardrobe. They also generally react faster to trends because they want to add “newness” to their look right away. The opposite holds true for “uniform dressers” and those who are disinterested in trends.
Your lifestyle is the most important factor that affects your style. Someone who works in a business formal or business casual environment has a different set of wardrobe needs to a stay-at-home Mum or somebody who works from home. How and where you socialize will also have an impact on your style, as will the extent to which you travel, attend formal events, and play sports. A common mistake I see is a wardrobe that was created for an imaginary lifestyle.
Your climate is the second most important factor to consider because it’s best to be practical about your wardrobe choices. That way you’re prepared for the elements and comfortable throughout the day. For example, no matter how much you might love to wear floor sweeping flared trousers with pointy toe heels, they’re really unsuited to wet and snowy weather. By the same token, creating an extensive capsule of outerwear for a tropical climate is a waste of time and money.
Sometimes the expectations of people around you can have a big effect on your style. I refer to this as your environmental norm. It includes cultural norms, workplace norms and even the expectations of your social circle. Everyone has to decide the extent to which they want to conform to their environmental norm or challenge it. You may choose to sometimes conform and sometimes challenge. There is no right or wrong here, but it is useful to acknowledge your environmental norm and factor it into your style decisions.
Although style is not a price tag, your budget will impact your style choices. Within your budget you can decide the size of your wardrobe, the rate at which you can refresh your style, and the amount you choose to spend per item. Although your income level can definitely put a cap on your budget, I find that income and budget aren’t always directly related. Each of my clients is pretty unique in the way that they approach setting a budget for wardrobe purchases.
It is never too late to start thinking about how these factors impact your style. My clients differ greatly in their appetite for this sort of analysis. For some of them it’s very informal, and something we touch on briefly while we shop and create outfits. Others love the analysis of thinking about these factors in great detail and then mapping them to their current wardrobe and their shopping strategy. Either way, thinking about how the internal and external factors affect your style is important.